BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Unintentional collisions and falling into the
boards cause more injuries in young hockey players than the
practice of body checking, researchers at the University at Buffalo
In a study that followed 2,630 boys over two seasons, results
showed that 55 percent of injuries were caused by unintentional
collisions with the boards, the ice, or between players, while body
checks accounted for only 12 percent of injuries. Seventeen percent
of injuries were caused by illegal checking.
Results of the study appear in the current issue (Oct. 31, 2005)
of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official
journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Barry Willer,
Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation medicine, is lead
Legal checking in hockey is defined as hitting with the shoulder
or trunk a player who has the puck or who has just passed the puck.
It is considered as integral to hockey as tackling is to
Body checking frequently has been blamed for injuries among
young players. Consequently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has
recommended that body checking be prohibited until players are at
least 16 years old.
Willer, who played and coached hockey for many years, said
introducing body checking only to teens may actually increase the
incidence of more serious injuries. "Bringing body checking into
the game at an age when players are big, strong, fast skaters
fueled by testosterone could be disastrous from an injury
Willer's research showed that when body checking was introduced
at age 9 there was a sudden increase in injuries, most of them
minor. But within a year, players had adjusted to giving and
receiving body checks and injuries dropped to earlier levels.
Another spike in injuries occurred among the 13-year-olds,
results showed, which the authors attribute to "increased
testosterone levels and concomitant aggressiveness." Injury rates
in this group also dropped to near previous levels by the time the
boys were age 14.
John Leddy, M.D., a sports medicine physician and coauthor on
the study, said the marked increase in injuries among 13-year-olds
"We think youth hockey leagues may need greater enforcement of
the rules among these adolescents as they adjust to changes in
their hormone levels," he said. Leddy is a UB clinical associate
professor of orthopaedics and associate director of the UB Sports
Willer suggests that the key to injury prevention is increased
skill development, plus a greater emphasis on learning to play
"heads up" hockey. He suggests that body checking may be a key
component of teaching this technique to skilled players.
"These younger kids are injured more often by falling into the
boards or colliding with each other, in part because they haven't
learned to skate or stop well. In addition, it's important to teach
a child very early to learn to look toward where he wants to shoot
the puck and to 'feel' the puck with his stick, instead of watching
the puck. By watching where you are going, you learn to avoid
Willer noted that checking is not allowed in women's hockey, yet
elite women players sustain as many injuries as male players.
The boys in this study were between the ages of 4 and 17 and
were enrolled in a Burlington, Ontario, youth hockey program in
2002 through 2004. In addition to the findings on body checking, a
primary end point of the study, results showed that injuries were
four times more likely to occur in games than in practices.
Also, boys who played in the most advanced levels of competition
(representative hockey) were six times more likely to be injured
than the less skilled house-league players, primarily due to the
speed and aggressiveness of play at the top level.
Additional contributors to the research were Beth Kroetsch, of
the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington; Scott Darling,
M.D., primary-care resident physician in the UB School of Medicine
and Biomedical Sciences, and Alan Hutson, Ph.D., UB associate
professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York.